Article By Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, Guest Expert and author of the award-winning book It’s Not Always Depression.
3 Minute Read
Blame is a defense on the Change Triangle. It’s a way we discharge our core and inhibitory emotions before we internally feel our sadness, shame, anger, fear, anxiety, and disgust.
We blame others, hurling insults and digging our heels into the cushy comfort of self-righteous indignation.
Or we blame ourselves. We beat ourselves up. We call ourselves names like “loser” and “failure.” And then we wonder why we feel small, alone and sick to our stomachs.
Next time you notice you are blaming someone or blaming yourself, no matter why, try getting curious about what your experiencing in your mind and body, instead of launching an attack. Ask yourself:
"What emotions am I having right now that make me want to judge, criticize or belittle my myself or someone else right now?” Work the Change Triangle to figure out if you are sad, angry, frightened, anxious, ashamed, or guilt-ridden.
No doubt there is always emotion involved. Emotions, behind the scenes, drive much of our thoughts and behaviors.
Being curious about the deeper emotional experiences, under your thoughts and behaviors, is good for your brain. Just the mere act of inquiry is positive in so many ways:
• Stops the hurtful impulses dead in their tracks
• Creates space in your mind
• Lets you practice going deeper beyond just what you think you know
• Creates a flexible mind over time
• Solves problems before they escalate
To illustrate what I mean, here’s a quick story about me:
I had a miscommunication with a friend and it was really frustrating and upsetting for me. I found myself oscillating between my anger at her and judging myself. I was angry at my friend for misunderstanding my intention and "making" me feel bad. I was judging myself for causing tension between us. In other words, I was blaming her and then I was blaming myself. Neither felt good. And neither felt right nor led to any relief or solution.
And then I remembered to be curious. I pulled back and tuned in to what I was feeling on an emotional and visceral level. I felt my pain. I felt my discomfort and the desire to move away from it and back to the blame game. But, I didn't. This time, I tried to calm my shame and anxiety. I stayed with my sadness. I validated my anger without acting on it. I used all the emotional processing skills I had learned in therapy and my training to sit with those feelings. I breathed. I remained curious and compassionate towards my emotions. And I sat with them for as long as I could to see what happened if I didn’t attack myself or my friend. I found myself needing to take very deep breaths to manage what I was feeling. It was hard at first and then something shifted—the pain lost intensity. I no longer felt the pull to act or to have to figure out who was bad. Instead, I was left with a manageable sadness over the whole ordeal.
Misunderstandings are hard. Yet, it felt better--less tense--to just be sad. My blame turned to compassion for us both. And that also felt better. We both had suffered. Maybe that was enough to hold in mind for now, I thought.
Pema Chodron wrote, “Getting curious about outer circumstances and how they are impacting you, noticing what words come out and what your internal discussion is, this is the key. If there is a lot of ‘I am bad, I am terrible,’ somehow just notice that and maybe soften up a bit. Instead say, ‘What am I feeling here? Maybe what is happening here is not that I am a failure—I am just hurting. I am just hurting.’”
Pema is right. I was just hurting.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel is a certified psychoanalyst and AEDP psychotherapist and supervisor, as well as the inspiration behind our Wiggle Warrior Training. Learn more about her contributions to our programming here >>
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